Can the new athletics chief save the sport in crisis?

Olympic champion Coe elected athletics’ governing body’s head with the sport in crisis over doping claims.

Seb Coe has beaten some immense challenges in his career on and off the track. But he’ll know saving athletics will be his toughest test yet. It may even be beyond him or anyone else.

The man elected IAAF president is nothing if not good mannered, as slick as he was in winning middle-distance races. And so he can’t be criticised for talking of being “humbled and delighted” by the appointment.
But Coe needs to be careful and not keep addressing the 214 federations.

Instead, he needs to start reaching out to the disbelieving public if it’s not too late.

No middle-distance runner – not even one of his quality – avoided trouble in the races. Being boxed in was a regular occurrence even for the best. But he made a rare mistake ahead of the elections when he was focused on securing the hot seat.

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Coe is a politician and he was making sure he had support around him when he called the doping crisis ‘a declaration of war on the sport’, inadvertently casting athletics as the victim.

War? That’s not the problem. It’s apathy that’s breathing down his neck as he attempts to glide around the track.

The World Championships about to start in Beijing is one of the most discredited events in sporting history. The situation is so bad that I believe it needed to act as some kind of watershed, of the type cycling has been forced into attempting post-Armstrong.

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How can anybody sit down with children and watch this week of athletics without feeling they are being cheated, almost mocked by the cheating competitors.

Learning increasing amounts about doping over my years as a journalist has been a dispiriting experience that leads to large doses of suspicion and cynicism.

I’d like to believe in fairytales but we are being taken for a ride.

If the true number of dopers was ever properly revealed – and at the moment most of it remains allegation – athletics as a sport would have nowhere to go or hide.

German broadcaster ARD and Britain’s Sunday Times used leaked IAAF information to allege that up to a third of athletes over a decade from 2001 were doping. The story is remarkably similar to cycling’s meltdown and the mistakes of its governing body.

This didn’t surprise me at all. The London Olympics was an incredible event but I reported ahead of the Games that at least one in ten competitors would be doping. At that time, it seemed a shocking claim but in fact there was nothing shocking at all about it.

The only risk I ran while quoting the best anti-dopers in the business and other expert sources is that they were actually playing down the threat.

I look back at victories in London that seemed glorious and shake my head. Everybody, and I mean everybody, has to be under suspicion. Imagine how that feels for those who are clean?

The biggest star of the sport is Usain Bolt. Many people regard him as its only hope. He came to London recently and I tried to jolt him out of the star treatment he was getting by asking if it ‘angers and disappoints’ him the actions of fellow athletes means they are all under suspicion.

Turkey’s Asli Cakir Alptekin, the 1,500m champion at London 2012, has been handed an eight-year ban for doping [AP]

If Bolt is clean, then he needs to turn on those around him for destroying faith in his achievements. The Jamaican gave a master-class in handling the media but I felt too many around him were blinded by his superstar glow.

This is not the time to laud Bolt. It’s time to remind him his sport’s reputation is in tatters and that everybody who earns a living from it has to provide more reassurance to the public.

Al Jazeera has upset more than one leading athletics figure – including Coe – by its insistence on asking about doping. The interviewees, the athletes, don’t want to hear it. Tough.

It is the athletes who are doping, not Al Jazeera. The public wants answers.

Away from the intense spotlight of 2012, it’s just been revealed that Turkey’s London Olympic champion Asil Cakir Alpetekin has had to give up her medal and will start an eight-year ban for doping. Her event? 1,500 metres, just like Coe’s.

How does he feel about that? What a mockery of his beloved event and his beloved sport. And how many more are there like her? It’s intelligence that catches cheats more than testing, with doping ever more sophisticated. Any ‘war’ that is declared has to be internal.

Coe is no fool. He knows there will be painful laps ahead to try and reach a cleaner 2017 World Championships in London.

Beijing 2015, through no fault of the Chinese hosts, will be watched with a heavy heart by athletics fans, if they watch it.

And that’s what Coe should publicly tell the next athlete that is found destroying the sport.

Dopers are the obvious enemy, but it’s apathy that is approaching now to threaten the very existence of athletics as we knew it.

Source : Al Jazeera


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